The ADL: Covert action, censure and courting law-enforcement
by Jeffrey Blankfort
Moderator Grant F. Smith: Jeffrey Blankfort is a photojournalist and radio host. It was his first trip to Lebanon and Jordan in 1970 to take photos for a book on the Palestinian struggle that led to his involvement in their cause. He became a founding member of the November 29th Committee on Palestine and a co-founder of the Labor Committee on the Middle East. Blankfort currently hosts a twice-monthly program on international affairs for KZYX, the public radio station for Mendocino County in Northern California. Please welcome Jeff Blankfort.
Jeffrey Blankfort: First of all, I would like to welcome you to the most important Israeli-occupied territory: Washington. In case you had any confusion about that. And that will be proven by the fact that there will be no coverage of this event in the national media, as happened last year, although C-SPAN did cover the event last year…not this year.
The Anti-Defamation League, which I’m going to talk about today, was formed by B’nai B’rith, the world’s oldest Jewish organization, 101 years ago last October. It was formed “to stop... the defamation of the Jewish people... to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.”
By 1937, however, it was already in the spying business, providing information to the federal government about individuals and groups that it considered to be subversive.
One of them was the first House Committee on Un-American Activities, run by Martin Dies, whose antipathy to Jews was well known. Among his first targets was the National Lawyers Guild, the majority of whose members happened to be Jews.
A decade later, in 1947, it joined the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the Hollywood “witch hunts,” acting as liaison for Jewish witnesses who wished to inform on their friends and offering information on those who refused to do so.
In October that year, hearings before the House Committee on Executive Department Expenditures revealed that the Civil Service Commission, without congressional authorization, was collecting information on individuals who had not applied for jobs in the civil service—the alleged subversives. And they were providing this information not just to the civil service administration, but to the FBI and HUAC.
This appalled the committee chair, Michigan Democrat Clare Hoffman.
When asked to define the groups that had provided the Civil Service the information, Hoffman said, “I will tell you that they are smear artists.” He was mainly referring to the ADL, which had provided information to the committee on up to 7,000 individuals.
Mind you, this was a year before Israel came into being, and reflected more the nature of the ADL than its commitment to Zionism. But this would change.
With anti-Jewish discrimination no longer a problem, protecting and propagandizing for the new state of Israel and censuring its critics and intimidating potential critics came to dominate ADL’s agenda, and has since. Long before Abe Foxman became the national director, its leadership had already invented the “new anti-Semitism” equating criticism of Israel with disliking Jews.
In 1971, True magazine interviewed three top officials of the ADL who boasted of its uses of undercover agents. And the interviewer said, “ADL must have a pretty extensive spy network to do all that.”
Well, it did.
It became evident in 1993, when an unprecedented police raid on ADL’s San Francisco headquarters revealed that its “Number One investigator” Roy Bullock—that’s how ADL chief spy [the late Irwin Suall] described him—had taken part in the ADL’s nation-wide spying organization.
The majority of the information in his files had been illegally obtained, according to the police, and violations committed by the ADL were so great that the district attorney said there were possibly 48 felonies that they would be charged with.
At the time of the raid, Bullock was being paid as a “cutout” unofficially for 30 years by a Beverly Hills attorney who was an ADL official, so it would not appear on its records, the ADL’s records. At first ADL denied to even senior staff members that Bullock was one of theirs.
A memo sent to ADL’s regional directors simply referred to “information [that] was found in the possession of an individual who is alleged to have a relationship with the ADL.”
The memo also attacked reports “falsely implying that ADL worked covertly with Tom Gerard to monitor Arab Americans.”
That was a reference to police inspector Tom Gerard of the San Francisco police, whose earlier arrest for unlawfully possessing thousands of computerized files on Arab Americans had sparked the story in the first place.
Well, proof of this was a confidential memo of a meeting in the ADL office with Gerard about a Palestinian Bay Area activist, and the information was then sent to Irwin Suall, the chief spymaster of the ADL in New York. Bullock, who worked with Gerard, was being paid $25,000 annually through this cutout, as I mentioned, and his job was to infiltrate and spy on Arab-American organizations and those he referred to in his files as “anti-democratic” organizations and individuals. Some, like neo-Nazis, militia groups and skinheads, did come under that category, but the majority didn’t fit that category.
According to more than 700 documents released by the district attorney, Bullock’s files contained information on 77 Arab and Palestinian organizations and 647 groups that Bullock labeled “pinko” and anti-apartheid groups. What Bullock labeled “pinko” were organizations from every sector of the progressive social, legal and political spectrum, from the NAACP to the Asian Law Caucus, United Farm Workers, and so on. Any group that might eventually take a position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, he kept files on
The names of more than 12,000 people on whom he kept files were never released.
The decision to make what he had public, effectively ended the district attorney’s political career. But then he caved in to pressure from the Jewish establishment and didn’t file any charges against anybody. It didn’t help him, however.
A separate section of Bullock’s files were devoted to groups opposing South African apartheid, including the African National Congress, which the ADL vehemently opposed. His surveillance of anti-apartheid activists reflected ADL’s efforts to keep information about Israeli-South African ties from going public.
Since, as Bullock acknowledged, he was already collecting this material for the ADL, when he went to work for South African intelligence officially, and being paid by South African intelligence, he was already doing that work. He didn’t have to do any more work.
His career began to unravel when he infiltrated the Labor Committee on the Middle East, which Bay Area labor and anti-apartheid activist Steve Zeltzer and I founded in 1987. Bullock attended the first two meetings at Zeltzer’s house, and he had infiltrated an anti-apartheid group that was supporting an imprisoned South African labor activist. That’s the way Steve invited him to come to the first meeting. And I had met him because he had infiltrated the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, where, because of his beefy appearance, he worked as “security” at their events.
Shortly thereafter, I received in the mail a page from the journal of the Institute for Historical Review, which claimed that Bullock, who had attended its conferences, had been working for the ADL, spying for it for 25 years. While no fan of that group, I suspected that what it said of Bullock was true.
Steve and I met with him, showed him the article and asked for his response. He denied working for the ADL, but did say he attended the conferences of the Institute for Historical Review, and he had done so, he said, in order to recruit members for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee- which is, of course, the last place the ADC would want to recruit members—but the ADL would want them to because they could blame and smear the ADC by saying they were pro-Nazi or Holocaust deniers and so on.
Having made some inquiries of my own ahead of our meeting, I asked Bullock to explain why he managed to turn up at so many Palestinian conferences around the country. Well, he was an art dealer, he explained, and by coincidence, his trips to buy art were coincidentally at the same time Palestinians were holding conferences around the country. Well, to back that up, and this was important, he provided references to two art galleries that he said would back him up as being an art dealer.
Well, Steve and I realized that this guy was a fraud, and was actually a spy, and we didn’t bother to checking the references. But I kept those references, and so when the Gerard story broke in the paper, I thought that there was a connection between Bullock and Gerard.
And so I called Dennis Opatrny, who was the [San Francisco] Examiner reporter writing about the story, and said to him, “Does the name Bullock mean anything to you?” And he said, “Boy, does it!” At that point it was only a last name in Gerard’s files. And so I gave him the name of the art galleries, and he called the art galleries, and then the story broke. ABC came out and photographed Bullock on the streets of San Francisco and it became the big story in local newspapers, and I was attacked in Jewish newspapers from the Jerusalem Post, Jewish [Daily] Forward, Washington Jewish Week, for having done that, for having exposed their spy.
By a twist of fate, ABC wanted to speak to someone who had been spied on by Bullock, and so the Assistant District Attorney John Dwyer gave them Steve’s file, and in Steve’s file was my name. So Steve called to let me know that I was in his file. I called Dwyer, it was about 2:00 in the afternoon, and I said, “Can I get my file?” He said, “Sure, come over and get it.” I wasn’t that far from the Hall of Justice, so I went over to get it.
And if I hadn’t done that, I never would have seen the file. Because that night, thanks to an ADL request, the files were closed and have been closed ever since. That enabled us to have a case.
The information in mine was a mixed bag, much of it sloppy and most of it wrong, such as my marrying a woman in 1963 who I had never heard of. It also contained my social security number, which the ADL had no business legally having. And the information had clearly come from the FBI, with whom the ADL has had a long working relationship.
Attorney and former Congressman Pete McCloskey—former congressman, himself a target of the ADL- he believed we should file a class action suit against the league and that he would do it, pro bono. If it were not for McCloskey we would not have had a case, because other lawyers would never have taken this case, because it would damage their political career.
To qualify as a plaintiff, one had needed to either support Palestinian or oppose Israeli policies, or oppose apartheid in South Africa. Steve and I had done both.
Initially, there were 19 individuals in the case. Sixteen dropped out, however, when they were afraid that if we lost they would have to pay court costs. That left me, Steve and Anne Poirier, an anti-apartheid activist, in the case. McCloskey single-handedly faced down a brace of the ADL attorneys from the highest paid and the largest law firm in San Francisco at the time.
We contended that the ADL had violated a California right to privacy that was designed to prevent institutions, like the ADL, from having [private] information and distributing it to other sources. And that is what the court would determine: that the ADL had taken our information, and given it to Israel and South Africa.
In 2002, after almost 10 years in the courts, the ADL threw in the towel.
On the Friday before the Monday when the court had determined we should go to trial, the ADL offered a monetary settlement for which we would not have to sign a confidentiality agreement, which would have prohibited me from later speaking about the case as I am doing now. And that’s the reason the case went so long. We would not sign that agreement.
What didn’t the ADL want us to talk about?
Well, one thing, Bullock was being paid by South African intelligence for spying on black South African exiles, and that he had followed and reported on the travels of Chris Hani, a young black South African leader who was expected to become president one day, after Nelson Mandela, and who was later assassinated.
It didn’t want the public to know that in Bullock’s files was a floor plan and a key to the office of Alex Odeh, who was a leader of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Orange County, whom Bullock had befriended. And that was in his files, and Bullock was never asked about how he had these files, and the key, and the floor plan of Odeh’s office in his files. [Odeh was murdered by a terrorist bomb upon entering his office in 1985.] ADL also wanted to bury the fact that it was operating a national spying network with seven spies around the country in different- at least seven spies like Bullock- working in different Arab-American communities, reporting information to the ADL.
A telling moment came when Pete brought Victor Ostrovsky, a former Mossad agent, down to Redwood City for a deposition.
And the ADL’s lawyers asked him to give them the information that he had taken with him when he quit Mossad and left Israel and used it for his book [By Way of Deception]. So here’s the ADL’s lawyers asking the former Mossad agent for his files from Mossad. You want a connection between ADL and Mossad? It’s right there
Of course, it was logical, but back in 1961 there was a letter from the head of the ADL, Ben Epstein, which bragged about how the ADL provided information to the government of Israel and the government of the United States. It bragged about how [when Saul] Joftes, who was head of the B’nai B’rith, complained, Joftes was fired. He said the ADL shouldn’t be doing that, said Joftes, and so Joftes lost his job.
The police investigation of the ADL in San Francisco was unusual because the ADL had collaborated with police all around the county, and the San Francisco Police, when they went to Los Angeles, which was heavily infiltrated by the ADL, the LA Police Department, the LAPD, would not cooperate with the San Francisco Police in their investigation.
The [Los Angeles] Police behavior was not atypical. For years, the ADL has been currying the favors of police chiefs and law enforcement officials across the country, sending them on all-expense-paid trips to Israel—Gerard had been on one of those trips. According to the ADL’s 2013 990 tax filing, 890 law enforcement personnel had been through its “advanced training school on extremist and terrorist threats,” and more than 85,000 had undergone training in conjunction with the U.S. Holocaust Museum here.
How that was expected to benefit the Americans, I don’t know.
In one of its publications, designed for law enforcement officials, the ADL boasts that: “Through strategic cooperation with the FBI, Israeli police and others, we facilitate the exchange of information and best practices regarding extremist threats. Law enforcement officials at the federal, state, and local levels turn to ADL repeatedly for assistance and value our expertise. We exchange with law enforcement personnel across the country on a daily basis, monitoring individual extremists and extremist groups.”
It’s a scary scenario, but not without its ardent supporters, such as FBI Director James Comey. On April 28, a year ago, addressing the ADL’s national conference, Comey thanked the organization for having trained more than 12,000 law enforcement personnel the previous year, and since 2010, he said, FBI employees have participated in more than 105 training sessions sponsored by the ADL on extremism and hate crimes, in 17 states and here in Washington, DC. “Your leadership,” he said of the ADL, “in tracking and exposing domestic and international terrorist threats is invaluable…And the training you voluntarily provide—at conferences, in classrooms, and at the community level—is eye-opening and insightful.”
“If this sounds a bit like a love letter to the ADL,” he said, “it is, and rightly so.”
Reality check: shortly after Comey’s talk, Grant Smith here, under the Freedom of Information Act, requested copies of the training materials used in ADL’s sessions with the FBI. According to the Justice Department, they couldn’t find any.
Second reality check, and closing up here, in November 1983 Leonard Zakim, executive director of the ADL’s New England office in Boston, sent campus Jewish leaders “a booklet containing background information on pro-Arab sympathizers who are active on college campuses,” telling them that if “you need more information on these individual groups or any others, please call us.”
He encouraged them to pass knowledge on that they may have “on other individuals and groups on to us so we can have a more complete and useful listing.”
In a postscript he cautioned that “this booklet should be considered confidential” because “it easily could be misconstrued.” Among the names included were Prof. Edward Said and Sen. James Abourezk. The booklet’s existence was not made public until January 1985, when the Middle East Studies Association was preparing to pass a resolution asking the ADL to disown the document.
When questioned about it by The New York Times, Zakim said the document had been careless and that he would not have written the cover letter if he had considered the matter thoroughly. Given it had been distributed more than a year before that, it was obvious that the only thing Zakim regretted was that he had been caught.
His reputation survived that.
In 2002, Boston had a new bridge named the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, after Zakim and the American colonists who fought the British at Bunker Hill. I very much doubt that if those colonists were around today, that they would like to be linked with the ADL.
Thank you very much.